Debbie Wadwell and Matt Rennie laying poppies at the Ipswich Cemetary for Remembrance Day.
Debbie Wadwell and Matt Rennie laying poppies at the Ipswich Cemetary for Remembrance Day. Inga Williams

Fight to uncover names of Ipswich's forgotten war veterans

MORE than 60 years after spilling his own blood on a Korean battlefield, Ipswich veteran Matt Rennie has taken up a fight on home turf.

His mission to identify 72 former Sandy Gallop mental home patients who served in the First and Second World Wars has taken more than 10 years, and there are still 32 names left to go.

Mr Rennie, who survived being shot in the head during the Korean War, said it was common for diggers to suffer severe mental illness after coming home.

Many of those men ended up in homes where, despite being looked after well in life, they were often buried in unmarked graves.

Prior to the opening of the dedicated AIF plot at Ipswich Cemetery in 2006, Mr Rennie discovered the final resting places of these forgotten soldiers.

"When these fellas died, the boilermaker would make a timber box and his offsider would paint it black," Mr Rennie said.

"They dropped it in a hole without registering who was inside."

Mr Rennie only discovered the antiquated practice when he asked about getting a plot in the AIF section at the Ipswich Cemetery for himself. Since then, he has worked with the Department of Disability Services to trace the names, cross-checking with defence archives.

Grave heights range from 1.98m to only 90cm deep.

Among the buried is Andrew John McCourt, who was awarded the Military Medal for carrying artillery shells on his back under heavy fire - for five days straight - on the Western Front.

There's also Richard Wharton, who was part of the 49th battalion that suffered heavy losses at Dernancourt, France.

"Back when these blokes were dying in the mental home, there was a real stigma attached - people didn't want to know them," Mr Rennie said.

"These plaques are the only recognition they've ever had."

Mr Rennie places a poppy on each of the plaques every year on Remembrance Day.

Meanwhile, his research to find the remaining 32 names continues.



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